Rochester Radical: The Journey of Christopher Lasch



Social critic Christopher Lasch

Join us on Saturday, April 16, from 1-2:30 pm in the Rundel Auditorium (Rundel Memorial Building, 3rd floor) for a fascinating look into the life and times of Christopher Lasch, perhaps America’s most preeminent social critic of the mid- to late 20th century.

The author of numerous celebrated books and articles, Lasch also seemed poised for an academic career as a historian that would lead him to the highest heights of the American university system. Instead, in 1970 after a decade of job-hopping, Lasch landed in Rochester and never moved again. He found an enriching community and planted deep roots in the “Flower City,” turning down other opportunities in order to remain in a place that aligned with his intellectual values. Join us for an exploration of the connections and affinities between person and place that tell Lasch’s quintessentially Rochester story.

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig

Jeff Ludwig is the Director of Education at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, N.Y. He previously worked as a researcher in the Rochester Office of the City Historian and for the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library. Jeff earned a PhD in History at the University of Rochester in 2014, completing a dissertation on the Rochester-based social critic Christopher Lasch.


March is Women’s History Month!

March 26, 2016
Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building
*Please note: Parking on the Court and Broad street bridges is free on weekends*

Women Voted in New York—Before Columbus

The very first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, N.Y., 168 years ago, culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments (a document that has since been lost to history). The resulting women’s rights movement changed the course of history. But to the neighboring Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) communities, political and economic equality among men and women was nothing new. Haudenosaunee women had had this authority—and more—since long before Christopher Columbus came to these shores.

While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than New York State women have today. Haudenosaunee women had the responsibility for putting the male leaders in place. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society. When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities. Despite the assimilation policies of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.

The 2017 centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State opens the opportunity for us to explore this new—yet very old—and unknown history of our region. We invite you to join us on March 26 at 1pm for a talk given by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, Founding Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, N.Y. Dr. Wagner holds one of the first doctorates awarded for work in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz).

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

This program was made possible by funding from the Public Scholars program of the New York Council for the Humanities.  NYCH logo


Celebrate Black History Month with Rochester’s Rich History!

RRH logo

Frederick Douglass in Ireland

Presented by Dr. Tim Madigan

February 20, 2016


Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building

imagesCACSD0DPIn 1845 Frederick Douglass was invited by leaders of the worldwide abolitionist movement to come to Ireland, where he spent months visiting such cities as Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Belfast and befriending orator and political leader Daniel O’Connell. Join us as we’re offered a glimpse of Douglass’s time in Ireland, where he came to feel for the first time that he was truly accepted as a human being.

To this day, Douglass remains a powerful figure for reconciliation in modern-day Ireland and Northern Ireland, with plaques commemorating him in Cork and Waterford, murals honoring him in Belfast, and a statue of him in Dublin.

O Tim Madigan and Danny Devenny  at Douglass Plaque Belfast June 2013

Dr. Madigan and muralist Danny Devenny in Belfast.

EE Tim Madigan with Plaque Honoring Douglass in Cork

Dr. Madigan at the Douglass plaque unveiling in Cork.

Dr. Tim Madigan is the Director of Irish Studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, the city where Douglass lived for over 20 years after his return to America from his trip to Ireland.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian


New Exhibit in Local History!

You may not have realized (I didn’t, and I work here), but the Local History & Genealogy Division has a rather extensive collection of postcards dating back to the early 1900s. When I discovered this trove I thought, “Wouldn’t these make for a great exhibit?” As it turns out, they do!

Featuring items from our collection, “Greetings from Rochester: Exploring the Past through Postcards” looks at the history of postcards and what they can tell us about the people who used them and how they saw the place and time in which they lived. Commonplace objects with historical significance, these artifacts not only reveal what Rochester once looked like, they also show us what the people who lived here once did.

Visit our exhibit and travel to the past through these enchanting images of landscapes, businesses, amusement parks, lakeside resorts, grand hotels, dance halls, movie houses, theaters, trolley lines, and other compelling scenes from a bygone era.

The exhibit will be up from now through May 2016 in the main hallway of the Local History & Genealogy Division, 2nd floor Rundel Building, 115 South Avenue. Come check it out!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Next up in Rochester’s Rich History: Native American Storytelling


New Exhibit in Local History!

We are launching a new exhibit in the Local History and Genealogy Division this week. Entitled “Vietnam Veterans: Serving Then and Now,” the exhibit focuses on the experiences and contributions of local veterans from the Vietnam War era. It is sponsored in partnership with the Central Library’s Science & History Division and the local Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 20.

We will be hosting a reception on Saturday, June 6, at 1pm in the Local History Main Hall (2nd floor, Rundel Memorial Building), followed by a lecture, “Telling the Stories of Rochester’s Vietnam-era Veterans,” in the Rundel Auditorium (3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building) at 2pm. For more information, please see the flyer below. Hope to see you there!


~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

It’s Earth Week!

April 22, 2015, marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. A holiday first introduced by US Senator Gaylord Nelson and fellow environmentalists in 1970, Earth Day is now a world-wide celebration that seeks to raise awareness of environmental problems and human beings’ role in creating—and hopefully solving—them. Rochesterians use Earth Day, and usually the week—or even month—around it, as a time to reflect on their environmental impact, but also to work towards meaningful change in human-environment interactions. Taking a “think globally, act locally” approach, we plant flowers and trees, pick up litter, recycle, conserve water and electricity, hold environmental fairs, attend lectures, discuss films, commune with nature, and more, all in the spirit of conservation and beautification of our natural surroundings.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Mayor Robert Duffy addresses young volunteers wearing Clean Sweep shirts during Earth Day activities at the Genesee Valley Park pavilion, April 2007. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in a scavenger hunt and Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group portrait of volunteers involved in an Earth Day clean up, April 2008. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Had I written this post on Wednesday, as I had originally intended, I would have been able to wish you a Happy Earth Day. Alas, before I knew it, Wednesday became Thursday became Friday, and the post remained unwritten. Fortunately for me, today happens to be another worthy, environmentally related holiday: Arbor Day! Better still for me, a historian who appreciates such things, Arbor Day predates Earth Day by nearly a century. And so it works out that I am able to wish you a very timely, “Happy Arbor Day,” and tell you a little about the history of this holiday (as I am wont to do).

Arbor Day was first celebrated in the United States in Nebraska in 1872. The goal was to plant trees to “spruce up” the Great Plains, so to speak. The idea for a holiday devoted to trees originated with newspaperman, nature enthusiast, and upstate New York native Julius Sterling Morton. Morton and his fellow pioneers realized that trees were important for providing fuel, building materials, paper (and, thus, newspapers!), erosion control, shelter from the sun and wind, animal habitats, and more. Not to mention trees are pretty to look at. As Morton himself proclaimed, “The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.” Beyond the pragmatic and aesthetic value of this natural resource, Morton recognized the responsibility humans have as stewards of their planet: “Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consume.”[1]

Morton used his newspaper to spread the word about the value of trees and environmental stewardship and encouraged his readers to set aside a specific day to plant trees. In 1872, Nebraska’s Board of Agriculture backed his idea and declared April 10 the first official Arbor Day. Morton and his fellow Nebraskans reportedly planted over a million trees that year. Other states soon followed suit, including New York, with its 1888 “Act to Encourage Arboriculture.”

Since that time, Rochesterians have celebrated Arbor Day with the expected tree-planting ceremonies, some accompanied by more pomp and circumstance than others.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group portrait of the 108th Infantry Regiment of New York, taken at Seneca Park during an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony, ca 1900. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A group of children raise their hands in the air as part of an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

A tree is planted during an Arbor Day celebration at Susan B. Anthony Park, April 2006. From the collection of the Rochester City Hall Photo Lab.

Washington Grammar School No. 26, on Clifford, was especially dedicated to celebrating the holiday in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, making Arbor Day the date of their annual picnic in Seneca Park. Our city’s enthusiasm for tree planting earned it recognition as a “Tree City USA” by the National Arbor Day Foundation in 1981, and every year since then.

Sometimes celebrated on April 22 (Morton’s birthday), Arbor Day has fallen anywhere from January to May, varying by year and location. When Earth Day appropriated the April 22 date in 1970, National Arbor Day became the last Friday in April (although different states still celebrate it at different times, depending on planting conditions). And so here we are, celebrating Arbor Day in Rochester on this last Friday in April 2015. Now go plant a tree! (By the way, our state tree is the Sugar Maple, for those of you who were wondering…)

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

[1] “What is Arbor Day?” Arbor Day Foundation newsletter,, accessed April 24, 2015.

Researching African American Ancestry Just Got Easier

In observance of Black History Month, genealogy website Fold3 is opening up its Black History Collection for free access during the month of February, including more than a million photos and documents found nowhere else on the Internet.

The list includes collections from the slavery era, Civil War, Reconstruction, world wars, and the Civil Rights Movement.

You’ll need to sign up for a free Fold3 account (or log in if you already have an account) to access the records for free. Start searching Fold3’s Black History Collection here.

Another genealogy website, Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau, helps find African-American ancestors’ Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman’s Bank Records after the Civil War. Free access is available from any computer and is not limited to this month. We also have a direct link on our computers in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Whether you are your family’s historian or simply interested in American history, there is much to discover with these two new resources. Happy researching!

Freedmen's Bureau

December Family Detectives Club


Local History Hits Big in Japan!

Mono Cover

Move over, Norma Desmond, it’s time for the Local History Division’s closeup! There isn’t much glitz or glamor to be found here at the library, but once in a while we’re fortunate to have the spotlight shine on the variety of materials in our collection. Here in Local History, helping researchers find information that isn’t available anywhere else is our specialty, and it’s always fun to see someone’s reaction when they encounter something in our collections that until that point had eluded them. One researcher found a tiny detail in the minutes of a meeting that took place in 1927 that confirmed a longtime theory of his—a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if the records of that organization hadn’t been preserved or described in a finding aid.

Sometimes, people will even cross oceans in order to find what they need from our collections. People like Eriko Sugimoto.

Eriko works for Mono magazine. “Mono” is a Japanese word that can be loosely translated as “stuff.” And Mono sure has a lot of stuff. Essentially a publication devoted to Western brands, Mono is heavy on the visuals, with pictures of watches, bags, coats, and all manner of clothing and shoes accompanied by logos bedecking each glossy page. Eriko, one of the magazine’s editors, was in charge of putting together a section for an upcoming “Master Book of Authentic American Brand” special issue with an emphasis on Champion Products. She asked what resources we had on the company. After a thorough search of our collections, I contacted her to tell her what I had found, which wasn’t a whole lot, I thought.

“Do you think it’s enough to make it worth a trip to Rochester?” she asked.

That was a tough call. Had she been coming from say, Livingston County, I would have said maybe. But Japan? I didn’t want to encourage a research trip to the other side of the globe if it wasn’t going to be fruitful. So my goal was to get her as much information as I could so that she could decide whether or not to make the trip. Our clipping files provided some background on the history of the company, which began operations in 1919 on St. Paul Boulevard as Knickerbocker Knitting Mills. Not surprisingly, Eriko was particularly interested in any graphics or images that we might have of Champion products through the years. Digging into our pamphlet file collection, I found several advertising pieces which I took pictures of and e-mailed to Eriko. I also found some annual reports in the general collection. It wasn’t much. She thanked me for the information.

A few weeks later, Eriko called and said she’d be coming to Rochester with several colleagues to look at what we had. As is the custom in Japan, she arrived bearing gifts for the staff; a box filled with green tea-flavored KitKat bars, a Japanese specialty.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

She was accompanied by Teruhiko Doi, Mono’s Editorial Director, Daisuke Takeuchi, Marketing Services Manager for Hanesbrands Japan, and a photographer. They were some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. We spent the afternoon at one of the large wooden tables in the division, sifting through newspaper articles and using old city directories to trace the company’s history. Since Eriko’s English was stronger than that of her companions, she translated various bits of information I pointed out to the two men. (A vigorous game of charades ensued when Eriko left briefly to put money in the meter.)

Two-and-a-half months later, Eriko sent me the result: A glorious spread on the company’s origins in Rochester featuring materials found here in the Local History Division, and a picture of the library to boot. Have a look. (Click on images to enlarge.)



They even made a Japanese logo for us!


Note the hip, new spelling of "Knickerbocker," the company's original name.

Note the hip, new spelling of “Knickerbocker,” the company’s original name.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian/Archivist

Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm  Comments (6)  
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